5.3 Four Exegetical Principles

From the New Testament's usage of the Old Testament, Harrison (1) has cited four exegetical principles to apply when studying the Bible in general and for the Old Testament in particular. First is the historical. This principle regards the Old Testament as an authentic and reliable historical document. The second is the propositional. This principle views Old Testament statements as either fulfilled in the New Testament or employed as a basis for doctrine or conduct. The third point is the homological and expresses the identity or correspondence between Old Covenant and New Covenant situations. The last point is illustrational and employs historical material to reinforce truth and stress moral teachings.

The interpretation of the Genesis account is one of the focal points in the debate over the authenticity of the Pentateuch (1). The recovery of Mesopotamian creation and flood narratives led many scholars to believe that the Genesis account was a comparatively late composition stripped of [243] Babylonian paganism by postexilic priests and presented as the accredited Hebrew tradition. The Babylonian account of creation found in the Enuma elish and the account of a flood found in the eleventh tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh were both dated back to the first Babylonian Dynasty around 1700 B.C.

The Enuma elish and Genesis accounts of creation are similar. Both commence with something analogous to a watery chaos and conclude with a creator at rest, and the intervening events follow the same general order. However, the differences in the two accounts are so striking that no real parallels can be found.

One similar flood account does emerge in the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic. The survivor of the flood tells Gilgamesh, the legendary king of Uruk, how the powerful water-deity Ea warned him of the coming inundation and how he constructed a boat in the contemporary fashion. He preserved himself and his family together with his possessions and some local fauna. The flood lasted seven days, and the boat finally came to rest on Mount Nisir in northeastern Persia. These cuneiform accounts seem to be quite similar to the Genesis record of the Deluge. The similarities of the biblical and the Babylonian accounts of creation and the flood may be attributed to their reference to an actual event, or by the fact that a standard sequence of creation and a standard method of escaping from the devastating flash floods of Mesopotamia were being circulated in epical form.

The differences between the biblical material and the polytheistic compositions of ancient Mesopotamia cannot be overlooked. The Old Testament narratives were taken by the Hebrews as historical accounts whose traditions were taken seriously in the faith of Israel. While being explicit on the polytheistic environments they faced, the biblical writers never regarded nature as the life of God, whom they considered the independent Supreme Being. This stands in direct antithesis to the Mesopotamian traditions. The God of the Hebrews is distinct from the gods of Mesopotamian and Egyptian polytheism, for He demonstrated His personality and sense of purpose by significant continuous acts in history. Human beings are creatures of God, impregnated with a sense of destiny, and cautioned with diligence to formulate the pattern of their lives within the context of divine promise and fulfillment in history.

The Covenant concept pervades the Bible and relates metaphysical dynamism to specific events and periods within the temporal continuum of Israelite life. This stands in contradistinction to the Mesopotamian polytheistic patterns that made history in general dependent on rhythms of natural forces. In addition, after diligent comparison Alexander Heidel [244] has pointed out succinctly nine striking differences between the Babylonian and Old Testament account of creation (2):

1. Enuma elish portrays Apsu and Tiamat as the masculine and feminine divine principles respectively who were the ancestors of the gods and living uncreated world-matter. Apsu was the primeval sweet-water ocean and Tiamat the primeval salt-water ocean. On the other hand, the Old Testament account of God depicts Him as the single divine principle existing apart from all cosmic matter.

2. The Babylonian account deems matter eternal. However, the Genesis account proclaims a creation from nothing (ex nihilo).

3. Enuma elish and Genesis 1 both refer to a watery chaos. The former conceives of this chaos as living matter and being part of Apsu and Tiamat, in whom all elements of the future universe were blended together. The latter portrays the watery chaos as nothing but a mass of inanimate thatwas later separated into the waters above and below and then into dry land and ocean.

4. In both the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts of creation there seems to be an etymological equivalence in the terms by which the watery mass is designated, namely, Tiamat and tehom, respectively. However, the Babylonian Tiamat is a mythical feminine figure. Tehom, while it occurs in Genesis 1:2 and is translated "the deep," never has any personal connotation. It refers to the entire body of the vast expanse of water, whereas Tiamat can represent only part of it, the other part being represented by Apsu. Moreover, the masculine ending of the word tehom makes it inconceivable to be a loan word from Tiamat since the latter has a feminine ending.

5. Both Enuma elish and Genesis 1 refer to a primeval darkness. However, the idea of darkness in the Babylonian account can only be deduced from an additional Greek source. In the Genesis account, darkness is expressed in unequivocal terms (Gen. 1:2).

6. Both accounts refer to the existence of light and to the alternation of day and night before the creation of heavenly bodies. But light was spoken of as an attribute of the Babylonian gods, Mummu and Marduk, who defeated Tiamat and fabricated the world. In Genesis, light is only a creation of God.

7. While the Genesis account concentrates on the creation of the universe, only two of the seven tablets of Enuma elish speak of creation. The other tablets record the conflict between Marduk and Tiamat.

8. The conflict between Marduk and Tiamat has been compared to the conflict of the Lord and Rahab (Isa. 51:9) and Leviathan (Ps. 74:12-17). However, the Marduk-Tiamat conflict occurred before creation, and the [245] conflict of God with Rahab and Leviathan took place after creation.
9. In Enuma elish, the world and humans were not created in the biblical sense of the term. They were merely fashioned from the elementary world-matter as by a craftsperson, and they are made with the blood of a deity that might be called a devil among the gods who had the assigned task of serving the gods. However, in the Genesis account, the Lord, who is one God throughout creation and eternity, does not first develop Himself into a series of separate deities. God creates matter out of nothing, and by His sovereign word the world was created. Humans were created in the image of a holy and righteous God, to be the lords of the earth, air, and sea.

Heidel concluded his treatise with the following succinct comments: "We have a number of differences between Enuma elish and Genesis 1:1-2:3 that make all similarities shrink into utter insignificance. These exalted conceptions in the biblical account give it a depth and dignity unparalleled in any cosmogony known to us from Babylonia or Assyria" (3). Therefore, the authenticity of Genesis is not easily dispensed with by its comparison with Near Eastern mythological writings.

References 5.3

1. Harrison; R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; 1969: 447.

2. Heidel, A. The Babylonian Genesis. The story of the creation. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press; 1942.
3. Heidel, A. The Babylonian Genesis. 118.